Capt. Charles Gould, the first man into the Confederate earthworks. (Courtesy Don Troiani, Historical Art Prints)
In the early morning hours of April 2, 1865, Union and Confederate troops huddled behind earthworks in the chilly spring air surrounding Petersburg, VA. As the morning glow began to peak above the eastern lea, 14,000 Federal troops anxiously awaited their assault along a one-mile stretch of lightly defended Rebel earthworks. With the firing of a signal cannon, men of the Union Sixth Corps under Major General Horatio G. Wright poured from their lines and quickly brushed aside the Confederate pickets under the command of Lieutenant General A. P. Hill. The Sixth Corps troops then came under a murderous fire for ten to fifteen minutes as they surged toward Hill’s sector, suffering some 2,200 casualties in this phase of the assault alone. The Federal troops ripped apart multiple lines of abatis, continued forward, and finally scaled Hill’s earthworks where savage hand-to-hand fighting broke out all along the line. Though the greatly outnumbered Confederate troops fought valiantly, they were ultimately overwhelmed and many were forced to surrender. After ten months of grueling siege, the Sixth Corps Breakthrough proved to be the decisive battle of the Petersburg Campaign, and forced Lee to wire Richmond that he intended to evacuate that very night. The beginning of the end of Confederate States of America was now well within sight.